Lake Martin Rookery, Louisiana

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Located within the Cypress Island Preserve near Lafayette, La., the Lake Martin Rookery is a bird-watcher’s paradise. The lake offers a unique habitat that attracts nearly 60 percent of all U.S. bird species to a scenic forest of oak, cypress and tupelo trees. The lake was formed in the early 1950s by a levee that was built around 765 acres of swampland. The birds started nesting in small numbers, and in 1989, more than 12,000 pairs of white ibises built their nests there. Many believe that one of the main reasons the lake became so popular with the wading birds is the resident alligators that keep predators such as raccoons away from the nesting areas.

Sightings include great egrets, roseate spoonbills, cattle egrets, little and great blue herons, snowy egrets, tricolored herons, black- and yellow-crowned night herons, barred owls, red-shouldered hawks, anhinga, cormorants and American white ibis. On rare occasions, nesting bald eagles have been spotted from fishing and tour boats out on the lake.

The rookery is a short 20-minute drive from Lafayette. Take Highway 94 toward Breaux Bridge and turn right at the stoplight onto Highway 353. Drive about five miles until you see a sign for “Lake Martin Rookery Road” on the left. This road makes a half-circle around one end of the lake and continues as a walking trail around the other.

Temperatures range from the mid-40s in the early morning to the mid-70s in the early afternoon. As summer moves in, activity is at its peak, and so is the temperature, which can be in the high 90s. Be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat for protection from the sun.


Photo Experience
My gear of choice is my Canon EOS 20D, along with a 75-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 telephoto-zoom lens and 1.4x teleconverter. The converter helps frame those nesting chicks for an up-close and personal experience, and the image stabilization of the lens comes in handy since the nests are normally in shade. For scenics of the lake, I use a Canon 18-55mm. The 18mm is perfect for those wide views, and if a bird flies or lands nearby (or an alligator swims by—which happens often), the 55mm can get a nice close-up shot. I always bring a tripod, which slows me down and makes me concentrate on composition. Exposures can be tricky, so I occasionally use a graduated neutral-density filter or Hoya’s Moose Peterson Warming Polarizer to bring the exposure values closer and capture all the beautiful hues of the sky and lake.

Best Times
Early morning puts the sun at your back and also is prime time for nesting and feeding. Throughout the day, you can drive or walk along Rookery Road, the left side being the most active. Late evening is a great time for in-flight shots as the birds come back to their nests and fly directly over the road. The rookery is closed for breeding season from February until August. Contact: The Nature Conservancy (Louisiana Office), (225) 338-1040,

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    I have been in the rookery for over 20 years and I am pleased to announce, it appears that the birds are back now that the Nature Conservancy has discontinued the annual draw-down(drainage)) of the water in Lake Martin. The nesting area along the road where the photography was so good is hopefully going to come back too. When nesting bird population was highest so was the water levels. I am at Lake Martin several times a week, and I am available to give updates and logistical info, if anyone needs to call me at 337 298 2630

    It was the drainage that killed off the invasive plants and the pumping in of water from the Ruth Canal that brought back the fish, the alligators, and the birds.

    And they have been back along the road for the past two years. While bird populations are not what they were before 2006 they are rising each year and now number 7500 nesting pair.

    Went out to the rookery on Saturday morning and this afternoon. The Egrets are ther but they are not very close to the road. I noticed that ther are some Pink Spoonbilled Rosettes there also, but at this time they are way back passed the Egrets. What is the best month when the birds are closer to the road? I did notice that today after 5 pm there were more Egrets and some were a bit closer to the road. I am new to photographing birds at Lake Martin and would appreciate any helpfull advice.

    The Great Egrets and Roseate Spoonbills nest in the large cypress trees which are about 600 feet from the road. They as well as White Ibil do fly overhead often and offer some outstanding flight shots.

    The Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets and Tri-colored Herons nest in the bushes close to the road.

    The best time to view all of the nesting birds is early April through late May.

    Please note that the statement from the article: “The rookery is closed for breeding season from February until August” should have read “”The levee road is closed for alligator breeding season from February until August”.

    The rookery is open year round.

    I checked out the web page for the Cypress Island Preserve, the actual name for the Nature Conservancy?۪s preserve at Lake Martin: .
    It agrees with the original article?۪s entry about the rookery being closed during February 1 – July 31 for the bird breeding season. According to the web page, it is the walking trail along the levee which is closed during June through October due to alligator nesting season.

    I went to the web page to see whether the restrictions had changed when I last went to the preserve a few years ago. At that time, birds nested in large numbers at a part of the rookery that was near the road and access to the road itself was not restricted. From what the web page has, it appears that access to the road itself has not changed.

    Nice article. I am looking to photograph southern Louisiana in the winter of 2010. Can anyone with expirience in that region drop me an e-mail? I am interested in all outdoor photo opportunities, wildlife, culture, history, etc. Thanks, Brian

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